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Apocalypse How?

On the Readings for Sunday, May 8, 2022, the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Detail from "The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Lamb" by Jan van Eyck (circa 1390 –1441) [Wikipedia Commons]

• Acts 13:14, 43-52
• Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5
• Rev 7:9, 14b-17
• Jn 10:27-30

Pop quiz: which book of the Bible describes black helicopters, high-tech warfare involving Russia and China, and computer chips embedded in human flesh?

Hopefully you answered, “None.” But you may know that some Christians believe the Book of Revelation, or The Apocalypse, describes soon-to-transpire, end of the world events in harrowing detail. And most people—even many Catholics—believe that the final book of the Bible is an unremitting work of doom, gloom, and bloodshed.

John the Revelator’s book undoubtedly contains images of doom and gloom, but not for those who stand for and with Christ. And while there is plenty of bloodshed in the Book of Revelation, the good news is that the blood of the Lamb, shed for the sins of the world, cleanses those who faithfully follow the Shepherd.

In other words, today’s reading from The Apocalypse is filled with joy. It proclaims that God will not only overcome evil, He will—at the end of time as we know it—bring together all of those who love Him. The great multitude witnessed by John consists of those who have been saved through suffering, just as Savior, the slain Lamb (Rev. 5:6), brought salvation through suffering and death. “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom,” explains the Catechism, “only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (CCC 677).

Those in the great multitude, from every nation, race, people, and tongue, are the Church. They make up the New Israel, which has gone through a New Exodus. While the first Exodus involved the people of Israel being saved from the tyranny of Egyptian slavery, this final Exodus consists of the people of the new covenant being saved eternally from the domination of sin and death. As Jesus states, in the reading from today’s Gospel, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28). The salvation of a multitude too large to be counted is a fulfillment of the great covenant made with Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation … All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Gen. 12:2, 3; cf. Gal. 3:7, 29).

Overcoming death and establishing eternal life is a constant theme in The Apocalypse. This can be seen in the imagery throughout the book, which is bursting with allusions to the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch and the Prophets. The idea of being made “white” through perseverance in faith is drawn from Daniel, a book used often by John: “Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined” (Dan. 12:10). White robes symbolize holiness and endurance. Priests in the time of Christ were examined for purity; if they passed, they were dressed in white robes, as was the High Priest. In the new covenant, those who have been baptized into Christ, the High Priest, and who endure to the end will be saved through the sacrifice of the Lamb on the Cross.

The palm branches allude to the feast of Tabernacles (cf., Lev. 24:39-40), which celebrated the harvest of crops and commemorated God’s divine protection during the Exodus. Palm branches were also used as symbols of victory (1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7). In The Apocalypse they stand for God’s victory over evil, His protection of the Church throughout the time of tribulation, and the restoration of right relationship with God, as evidenced by the songs of praise before the heavenly throne.

John’s vision is also filled with a liturgical and sacramental perspective. The great multitude worship God in His temple, which ultimately is the Person of Christ (cf., Jn 2:19-22). Being washed and made white suggests the bath of Baptism, and the lack of hunger or thirst is Eucharistic in its promise of complete joy in the presence of the Lamb.

Thus, in the end—The End!—the apocalyptic truths of the Book of Revelation don’t involve helicopters and top secret technology, but the salvation of God’s flock, His people, through the death and Resurrection of the Lamb.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the March 30, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Olson addresses a widespread misunderstanding by many traditionalists in taking the Apostle John’s Revelation literally.
    Biblical scholars who translated the French Jerusalem Bible [École Biblique et Archeologique Française de Jerusalem] assist the reader [in the unabridged commentary edition] in a correct understanding of the Apocalypse [original title of The Book of Revelation] texts. The Apostle John was persecuted by emperor Domitian exiled to Patmos [proximate to the locale where it is believed he cared for the Blessed Virgin]. Much of what John gives account of is the Roman emperor who began the first universal persecution of Christians, John couching his Apocalypse in that context. Although to avoid further reaction from Domitian he coded his references to Domitian that were accessible to Christians.
    Furthermore, the use of symbols fills John’s revelation, the translator stating this requires appreciation of its allegory [hidden meaning].

    • Fr. Peter: What I emphasize when giving talks, etc., on this topic is that every passage of Scripture has a literal meaning (CCC, 115ff), but that we do not interpret Scripture literalistically. One way to put is that the literal meaning is what the inspired author intended. As “Dei Verbum” states:

      However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

      To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (par 12)

      One of the most common failures of many “interpreters” of The Apocalypse is that they ignore the hundreds of allusions and references to Old Testament writings (Ezekiel, Daniel, the Pentateuch, etc), in part because John rarely, if ever, directly quotes from the OT; he assumes that his readers will know it and catch his references (not aware of course that most 21st-century Americans couldn’t find 2 Chronicles if their life depended on it).

      • Thank you, Carl. As you likely know, St. Josemaria Escriva’s University of Navarre has a volume dedicated to the Book of Revelation. I have the Four Courts Press edition of 1992.

        In addition to extensive commentary, this Navarre edition contains a very valuable 14-page Introduction (author not designated) which describes four main ways of interpretation:
        1) As a history of the Church, past and future;
        2) Rationalist tradition holding the book “as merely a symbolic description of first-century events”;
        3) Exclusive reference to the eschatological era (this interpretation having been in ‘vogue’ in the 18th C.);
        4) Theological vision of the entire historical panorama.

        The Preface claims the book’s commentary is based on thousands of sources including Magisterial documents, exegesis by Fathers and Doctors, writings of St. Escriva, and works by other “important spiritual writers (usually saints, of every period)” and exegesis in the context of “Sacred Tradition and under the guidance of the Magisterium.”

        • Ascension Press has a Bible study about Revelation. It’s format is multi-part videos (online access and/or on DVDs) that can be used along with an associated workbook.
          Dr. Brant Pitre has two presentations about Revelation “Jesus and the End Times: A Catholic View of the Last Days” and “Who is the Whore of Babylon?” His presentations have free downloadable outlines in PDF format that are a summary of the presentations as well as excerpts from the presentations. On YouTube he has some free videos about Revelation.

      • Good advice Carl. I’m aware of the allusion in Revelation to Daniel and the Abomination of Desolation [apparently a figure of Zeus] Antiochus Epiphanes enshrined in the Jerusalem Temple. Its likeness to the image of the beast placed by the Antichrist in the Temple. At the time John wrote the Temple [including the Apostle’s allusion in 2 Thess 2] was still thought of as the Jerusalem Temple, Rome’s Basilica established later.
        Literalistically is referenced quite well in Dei Verbum. As an amateur biblical scholar I appreciate any well founded advice.

      • Seems you’ve engaged us in a tutorial on sacred scripture [if you have more to add please do]. Fr Jean Louis D’Aragon SJ, in line with Dei Verbum gives a compatible interpretation in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, perceiving the Beast, from the Apostle John’s perspective, as the Roman empire [D’Aragon my source of John’s alleged allusion to Domitian]. Quite likely, the Whore of Babylon riding the Dragon is a reference to Rome. It may also for future reference have been inspired to censure Augustine’s City of Man, the secular world.

        • Fr. Peter: In my first book, Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”? (Ignatius, 2003), I have fairly lengthy and detailed chapters on both the Book of Revelation and The Millennium. This 2002 essay captures some of what I wrote in the book: “The Time Is Near” (This Rock, 2002).

          • Enjoyed reading. Especially the historical variations and the crazy responses [the Taborites]. It has the effect of good strong coffee to sober up. “Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, and Mikhail Gorbachev have been identified as the Antichrist”, I’m sorry, you left Chuck Schumer.

          • The Beirce quote is from his Devil’s Dictionary, which has been a favorite of mine since high school–despite Bierce being agnostic/atheistic and no friend of Christianity. But it is so drop-dead funny and clever (and even wise in many places), that’s is impossible to dislike.

          • I temporarily lost access to the Internet after I read about the amusement park ticket! I’m still ROTFL after escaping the flood from laughing-tears forced me to flee from my desk in the den.

          • Is it any wonder that St. Thomas never commented on this illustrious book? Believe me, I checked.

      • A true tutorial. If we take from your article, Carl, and from the comments in which we find sound counsel on the Apocalypse of John [particularly meiron’s citing of the 4 premises of Josemaria Escriva, your’s of Dominican Celestin Charlier] we’re better equipped to study John’s last book of the New Testament.
        John’s Apocalypse is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be read by Christians. As such it contains what the Father deems beneficial, even exigent for the Christian. An example is allegory [among the literary forms addressed by Verbum Dei] that must be honored not dismissed. Fr D’Aragon SJ in his Jerome Biblical commentary interprets John’s allusion to Domitian as the Antichrist, although he doesn’t leave it there, obviously he perceives the allegory as directed to the Antichrist understood by the Church and end times.
        Escriva’s premises have a degree of applicability [except 2 unless Revelation is understood as allegory] with modification. We find examples in the Gospels, and Acts, in the Gospels Christ [who predicts some of those present will witness the end], and the Apostles referencing end times in the anticipated [prophesied] destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.
        I state this as a priest’s witness to the efficacy of sacred scripture, as a correction of some of the statements quoted that would lead Christians to dismiss the Book of Revelation as remote to the understanding, and susceptible by its nature to the bizarre. To the contrary. I write this to reaffirm the thesis of your article.

  2. As an endnote, John refers to two beasts. It is during the reign of the second beast [that the Great Revolt, the Apostasy of Christians and their worship of the first beast, the Dragon, the Apostasy climax. Two prophets loyal to Christ contend with the false prophet, who appears in my view to fit the role of the Antichrist. So much wild guesses, although I hold to this interpretation until someone comes up with better. My prayer is that we’ll all have cause to rejoice if we’re here at Christ’s coming in full glory.

    • Additionally, for clarification my opinion is just that since Revelation is largely allegory. Whether the two beasts are persons is debatable although the Fathers believed the Antichrist would be a person. Although as allegory, Antichrist could be a movement such as Communism, which was ‘wounded’ with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but now arisen with kindred secular humanism.

  3. As a true member of the mystical body of Christ I have not stopped speaking of a prophetic dream ai had several weeks ago . It was frightening to see these four horsemen approaching me ready to attacki me and my. Family. A week later Russia attacked Ukraine.

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  3. Апокаліпсис (не) сьогодні: як потрібно читати Книгу Одкровення – BuddyPress

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